Former Democratic Mayor Timothy O’Brien started working for the state’s Department of Administrative Services last month, working under the head of commissioner and former New Britain Mayor Donald DeFronzo.
O’Brien applied for a job with the state several weeks after losing November’s election to newcomer Erin Stewart, a Republican. He applied to a position in the Labor Department on Dec. 6 and was later was given an opportunity to work for the DAS under a newly created position.
In an interview, DeFronzo said that sometime after the start of the New Year, O’Brien contacted him looking for work opportunities and was subsequently told about an open position supervising work being done around restructuring school construction projects in the state.
In addition to O’Brien, his former aide Mike Baczewski also has taken a position at the DAS.
In 2010, Dannel P. Malloy named DeFronzo, who was mayor of New Britain from 1989 to 1993, commissioner of DAS. He also worked in the legislature as a senator, holding the 6th Senate seat from 2003 to 2010. O’Brien and DeFronzo worked together for eight years in Hartford as lawmakers.
DeFronzo said he approved O’Brien’s hiring and said there was “no preferential treatment” that took place. He said that after reviewing the job requirements, he thought O’Brien would be a good fit for the job based on his experience working alongside him in the legislature.
“A job like this reflects directly on my personal credibility,” DeFronzo said. “I wouldn’t hire anybody who I didn’t think could do a job.”
As a “durational project manager,” O’Brien is assisting in the work being done by the School Building Projects Advisory Council, a body established by the Malloy administration to study school construction in the state and find ways to reduce costs, improving the grant administrative process, and other related issues. The position will likely be short term, lasting at most two or three years. He reports directly to DeFronzo.
O’Brien, who earned 103 credits at Central Connecticut State University but did not receive a degree, began the position on April 7. He is paid $2,030.65 biweekly, or just under $53,000 annually. According to a copy of his job application, O’Brien filled out the document on April 11, four days after he started working at the DAS.
Jeffrey Beckham, staff counsel and Director of Communications for DAS, said that the position was not developed for Mr. O’Brien but that “when he approached Commissioner DeFronzo looking for employment, the commissioner believed that his skill set was an excellent match for the position.
“Specifically, Mr. O’Brien has in-depth knowledge of school finances, local government and the state legislative process. In addition, his research and public policy acumen is well established,” Beckham said.
In his job application, O’Brien touted his work as a state representative in the General Assembly and his work as mayor. He noted that he oversaw around 600 employees, managed a budget of over $200 million, and managed operations varying from economic development to labor relations. O’Brien also listed his work as a legislative assistant in which he aided lawmakers with policy development, communications, and clerical work.
The Hartford Courant first reported on O’Brien’s hiring.
Beckham said that the position was not posted and that the opening did not require a general solicitation, nor was the position created for the former mayor. “Mr. O‘Brien was hired for the temporary unclassified position because he was known to the commissioner as someone who could do the job,” Beckham said.
“These positions are very similar to staff positions in the office of a mayor or governor, where, due to the nature of the work and the direct reporting responsibilities involved, a general posting and solicitation is typically not done,” Beckham continued.
“Commissioner DeFronzo worked extensively with Mr. O’Brien in the legislature and knows his strengths as a researcher, writer and policy analyst,” Beckham said. “Specifically, the commissioner was aware of the work O’Brien did in securing grant funds for the New Britain Board of Education and his work on complex housing reform and campaign finance legislation. The commissioner was also aware that, during his ten years in the legislature, many local organizations went to Mr. O’Brien for assistance on a variety of complex issues affecting the city and found him to be an effective legislator.”
According to a job description, a person working as a durational project manager can hold the position for up to two years, though extensions can be given with the approval from the commissioner of the DAS.
DeFronzo said that he worked with O’Brien in Hartford on some “pretty complex and sophisticated topics” like campaign finance and housing reform.
“I got to know him as someone who analyzes things very carefully, researches things very carefully, and is very thorough in his approach,” DeFronzo said. “He is very much a policy guy.”
Baczewski, O’Brien’s former aide, started working for DAS on March 21 as a contract analyst in the department’s procurement unit, Beckham said. He was one of 168 applications for the “Connecticut Careers trainee” position and was one of the 40 persons who made a second round of interviews, Beckham said. “After a second interview, he was determined by the interview panel to be among the top candidates and was selected by the commissioner,” he added. Baczewski will be paid around $43,000.